Law and Regulations

Govt successfully breaks into San Bernardino shooter's iPhone

Gov't has unlocked attacker's phone - Filing

The Justice Department said Monday it has accessed data on the iPhone used by a shooter in last year's San Bernardino, California, attacks and no longer needs Apple's help in cracking it.

The DOJ asked a California judge to drop an order requiring the tech giant to help the FBI unlock the phone. The government sought data as part of the investigation into the attack, which left 14 people dead.

"Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone," said U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker in a statement.

"Although this step in the investigation is now complete, we will continue to explore every lead, and seek any appropriate legal process, to ensure our investigation collects all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack," Decker said.

The DOJ's action comes after weeks of wrangling with Apple that ignited fierce rhetoric about the limits of privacy and data security. Apple and others in the tech community said they feared the order would set a dangerous precedent, while officials previously noted they wanted help to unlock only the phone in question.

A hearing on the matter set for last week was postponed after the government said it needed time to test a third-party method that would not require Apple's aid. The DOJ did not identify who helped it access the data or what method they used.

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The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters on Feb. 23, 2016, in Washington, D.C.
Apple: DOJ 'desperate,' brief reads like indictment

The FBI said in a statement that it could not comment "on the technical aspects that were taken to open the phone nor the identity of the third party that came forward as a result of the publicity generated by the court order."

"During the past week, to include the weekend, extensive testing of the iPhone was done by highly skilled personnel to ensure that the contents of the phone would remain intact once technical methods were applied," the FBI said.

Some observers in the technology community questioned whether the government really needed Apple's help.

The high-profile fight escalated earlier this month, when the DOJ in a filing called Apple's rhetoric "false " and "corrosive" of institutions that safeguard rights. The government accused Apple of "deliberately" raising "technological barriers" that affected the investigation.

Apple said at the time that the government had become desperate, arguing the brief read like an indictment.

In a statement on Monday, Apple responded to the DOJ's request to vacate the order by noting that the case should have never been brought.

"From the beginning, we objected to the FBI's demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government's dismissal, neither of these occurred," Apple said.

"We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated."

USA Today first reported that the government would drop its case against Apple.

CNBC's Ryan Ruggiero contributed to this report.